One Down, One to Go

Readers of this column will know that the NE Quadrant phase of the Central City Plan update recently finished. The resulting Plan was approved by City Council. This plan is “advisory” and may be changed of modified subsequently. Concern about possible changes that would upset the compromises agreed to by the stakeholder committee resulted in a request that the committee be notified of any prospective changes and re-engaged to review and comment before they are adopted. It isn’t clear Council will be bound by that request, but here is hoping it will be.

One reason the plan is advisory is that it is part of the Central City Plan and that, in turn, is part of the larger Comprehensive Plan. Both of these “Plans” will change land use policies and land uses/zoning. The Central City Plan is proceeding quadrant by quadrant with all four expected to feed into the Comp Plan update. Generally speaking, the Comp Plan will not result in a city-wide scale of zoning changes. The Quadrant plans, will address local zoning changes, although actual zone changes will be incorporated in the Comp Plan.

To be clear, any change in the allowed use of specific parcels of land (a change in zoning), is expected to be limited to Central City plans. The Comp Plan is expected to change the zoning code, which may allow (or limit) uses different than existing zones. For example, high density residential zones may be modified to allow more ground floor retail. This kind of change will change the way properties can be used or developed with existing zoning. Typically, these kinds of changes are the result of Planning Staff experience with current zones and zoning. If they see lots of request for zone changes for a specific purpose, such as to allow more ground floor retail, they will propose an amendment to the building code to permit that use “by right,” so property owners don’t have to ask for exceptions to the zoning. Simply stated, the Comp Plan won’t change zoning for individual properties city-wide. However, it is expected to change what is allowed within existing zones and potentially create new/eliminate old zones if there is a need. In addition, it will change and adopt new Planning policies that may also allow landowners and developers greater flexibility. While this should benefit landowners and developers, it may disadvantage neighborhoods, especially older, established neighborhoods like Eliot. The Eliot Land Use Committee will participate actively in this process to protect Eliot’s interests.

Of particular interest to Eliot are some changes incorporated in the NE Quadrant Plan. These include allowed height restrictions north of Broadway for properties that abut historic Eliot and changes in residential zones west of Williams to allow continue use by existing commercial firms. Modification to the industrial zones used in parts of Lower Albina is also proposed. Other zone changes in Eliot are not expected at this time, although the Comp Plan intends to review the current “Institutional” zones city-wide, which includes the zoning for Emanuel Hospital.

The process of reviewing the “I” zone is in its early stages. In the 1970’s the City in league with Emanuel Hospital demolished a large swath of Eliot’s housing between Williams and Vancouver in anticipation of a federal funding for a major expansion. Despite the fact the funding never arrived and the land was not developed, Emanuel continued to acquire new property. Eliot viewed this with alarm, based on experience elsewhere in the City where hospitals continued to nibble away at established neighborhoods. The result was the negotiation of an Institutional Management Plan (IMP) that restricts Emanuel’s expansion to its current boundaries. Experience with the IMP has been mixed, with some dissatisfaction by both parties. The Plan imposes significant “process” and expense and limits flexibility that both Eliot and Emanuel would like while providing Eliot with limited leverage over issues it values, such as the interface between the hospital campus and the residential area, which is currently composed of blank, mostly unattractive, parking structures. Opening the “I” zone process up could benefit both Emanuel and Eliot if it addresses mutual interests, but it could also simply grant institutions greater license at the expense of neighborhood livability. Again, the Eliot Land Use Committee intends to be actively engaged in this process to protect Eliot’s interests, as well as to accommodate the mutual needs of Emanuel as a valued neighbor and partner.